Bristow's Duncan Tripp presented with 2023 Billy Deacon SAR Memorial Trophy

Inverness-based Winch Paramedic Duncan Tripp has been announced as this year’s recipient of the Billy Deacon SAR Memorial Trophy for his outstanding bravery during the rescue of 24 people from the slopes of the UK’s highest mountain.

The trophy, which is awarded to Winch Paramedics and/or Winch Operators for meritorious service in the UK and Irish SAR regions, was presented to Tripp by Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Lawrence at a special event in the House of Commons on 14 June.

Tripp was part of the Inverness duty Search and Rescue crew who responded by helicopter to reports of a 28-year-old male who had fallen on the slopes of Ben Nevis on 8 March 2022.

However, on arrival it soon became clear the incident was much bigger and more complex than first reports suggested, with multiple casualties stranded on the mountain in dangerous weather conditions and, tragically, one fatality.

Graham Hamilton, Director UK SAR, said: “Many people responded to that tasking but Tripp’s individual and selfless actions truly embody the values the Billy Deacon Memorial Trophy recognises among Winch Operators and Winch Paramedics.

“Working away from the helicopter on the mountainside for hours in extreme, hostile conditions, Tripp demonstrated the highest levels of leadership and devotion to duty which saw the safe recovery of multiple people stranded in life-threatening situations. He is a worthy recipient of this trophy."

Citation for the 2023 Award

The rescue took place at a location known as the Zig Zag path and Red Burn Gulley high on the mountainside. The severe weather meant the rescue helicopter could not land or hover safely in the vicinity of the casualty. So the decision was made to land the helicopter further down the mountain.

Secretary of State for Aviation, Baroness Vere, also spoke at the event, suggesting Tripp's story had all the elements of a Hollywood movie!

Winch Paramedic Tripp volunteered to leave the safety of the aircraft and, loaded with his rescue gear, wearing crampons and carrying an ice axe he started a laborious and dangerous ascent back up the slope.

During the laborious energy sapping ascent, Tripp came across four climbers descending the path on all fours. They informed him there were more people in difficulty including two people stuck in ‘Red Burn Gulley’. One of them with a leg injury and both suffering from exposure.

Now faced with a complex multi-casualty situation he contacted R151 (On Scene Commander) and a major incident was declared at 4.30pm.

Enlisting the support of one of the more well-equipped climbers, he slowly made his way towards Red Burn Gulley. A craggy inaccessible area.

Eventually Tripp located two exhausted and trapped people. They were reluctant to move, suffering from exposure and in fear for their lives, he explained their best chance of survival was to entrust their lives to him and attempt a descent of the mountain. Early in the descent Tripp had to hack steps into the ice frozen ground to traverse a ledge, then escort his party across one by one.

Struggling to keep track of their position in the ‘white out' conditions and fading light they used paths on snow and ice covered ground barely a foot wide. At one point the sheer force of wind caused Tripp to lose his footing, sending him sliding down an ice slope. Managing to roll over he dug in with his ice axe to save himself after a 20 metre slide. Nearing a position of relative safety, the group met up with some Mountain Rescue Team members who assisted the casualties with Tripp leading the party downward.

Due to low cloud and a lightning storm the rescue helicopter could not reach the agreed extraction point at ‘Halfway Lochan’. But other members of the Mountain Rescue teams had arrived at that point and with their soft track vehicle the whole party made it to safety at Torlundy, meeting up with his colleagues in the Rescue Helicopter after some six hours on the mountain.

Praise and thanks must also be paid to the many brave members of the Mountain Rescue teams who rescued people and all those that supported them in a Search and Rescue Major Incident, on that day.